Amsterdam University’s New Research Field: Urban Mental Health

Commons Network researcher Taru is investigating the links between capitalism, mental illness and commoning as a possible remedy. On our blog, she regularly posts updates from her project to keep us in the loop. Today: Amsterdam University enters the field of Urban Mental Health.

At an increasing rate, people are moving to the city. Growing mega-cities offer more opportunities, driving 21st century urbanisation to unprecedented levels. A higher rate of urbanisation however, is also associated with more mental illness.

We are still far from pinpointing the exact mechanisms at play behind this phenomenon. Fortunately, the University of Amsterdam has decided to pay close attention to this emerging research domain. The recently opened the Center for Urban Mental health (‘finding new pathways to unravel urban mental health: from complexity to action’).

On the 8th of November I (gladly) skipped my last economics lecture of the week and joined the kick-off event of this exciting new avenue into research on mental health.

At the start of the evening the directors of the project made it clear why new approaches to mental health are needed: one in five adults in The Netherlands is experiencing depression, anxiety, or addiction (or a combination of the three) and these numbers are growing. Mental health is a complex concept, and research into it requires looking at the interplay between emotions, cognition, physiology and environment. This only becomes more challenging when looking at the urban environment.

Consequently, the newly launched Center for Urban Mental Health here in Amsterdam is taking an interdisciplinary approach to mental health with the aim of unravelling new pathways to improve urban mental health. They plan to use insights from complexity science to bring a fresh perspective to the connection between urban environment and mental health.

During the kick-off event we heard from multiple professors who already incorporate new ways of looking at mental health into their work. For instance, Professor Denny Borsboom presented an important difference in the field of psychology between looking at symptoms as caused by a central pathogenic pathway or considering symptoms as components of a network. We must look into the interrelation between different symptoms. For example, stress leads to disrupted sleep, which increases the risk for mental illness.

For a more comprehensive explanation see the website of The Psycho Systems Project. To stay updated on the journey of the urban mental health center, follow them on Twitter.